Kick-Ass Kicks Ass

Warning: The following review may contain SPOILERS:

What would happen if a comic book geek like say, myself, decided one day to put on a costume and actually try to fight crime without any powers or special training? Most of us, myself included, would not have to learn the hard way that such action would lead us to the hospital or the morgue. Fortunately for us, the protagonist in Kick-Ass lacks such common sense.

I haven't read the comic book series written by Mark Millar and illustrated by J.R. Jr. on which it was based, but a friend I saw the film with thought it was pretty faithful, with a few parts changed. Surprisingly, he thought the book was more violent. I thought the film pulled no punches. If you go up against someone with a knife, you're going to get cut. The movie walks a fine line between cautionary tale and satire, and while comic nerds can identify with geeky, awkward teenager Dave Lizewski(Aaron Johnson) as he escapes his crappy life by putting on a costume at night, it's not long before we get into darker territory.

Lizewski's exploits as Kick-Ass make it on to the internet and soon inspire other costumed vigilantes. One such character, Big Daddy, is an amalgam of Batman and The Punisher. In the comic, there's a twist to his identity, but in the film he has a more conventional origin, motivated by tragedy and injustice to obsessively work toward destroying the crime boss who ruined his life. To that end, he trains his 11-year-old daughter to become the perfect killing machine, and this may be the element that divides film critics.

Early on, when we see Nicolas Cage “training” a bulletproof vest-wearingChloe Moretz by shooting her at close range, it's clear that something is wrong with this father-daughter dynamic. As one of his friends later points out, he's so consumed with revenge that he's robbed this girl of her childhood by turning it all into a game, making the world a real-life comic book. Some critics were disturbed, but I think we're supposed to be disturbed. There are moments when she seems to be a regular little girl, asking for girly things, only to just be messing with her father. There are other moments under heavy fire and great loss that, just for a second, we get a glimpse that this is a scared child. It's easy to forget, because she's so capable as Hit Girl. And our reactions say something about ourselves as an audience. I was alternately laughing or sitting with my jaw open in shock as she stabbed, sliced, and shot her way through bad guys. Hit Girl is completely awesome and the most capable fighter in the movie, but after cheering you're left with this bad aftertaste as you remember she's eleven and killed without remorse. She was probably my favorite character in the film, but her dialogue and actions take on a greater shock value because of her age. Of course, that's probably the point.

Kick-Ass definitely stays in the “real world” most of the time, albeit one in which high school kids hang out in some hybrid comic book store coffee shop. Seriously, do those exist? Why wasn't I informed? We go through familiar Spider-Man territory, with some sitcom elements as well. Dave gets close to his dream girl, but only after she mistakenly thinks he's gay after the first time he gets beaten up. He doesn't correct her since it lets him spend more time with her, but it's not an ideal situation either. His geek friends aren't much help, his mom passed away, and his dad is too busy at work to notice the various lies his son is living. Christopher Mintz-Plasse got some laughs from the teenagers in my audience every time he was on screen, likely because they recognize him as “McLovin” from Superbad. As Red Mist, he's one of the few heroes with a budget that can afford his own “Mistmobile”. Like everyone else in the movie, he too leads a different life when not in costume, making for some great moments when his motivations come to light. By the end of the movie, we do find ourselves in an obligatory comic book showdown with gratuitous violence and unlikely props, but by then we want some fantastic elements to lift our spirits. In the end, it's about how one person can become an icon, how inspiration can change society as a whole. The film seems to carry two messages, the first being that comic books are glorified fantasy and we could get hurt emulating fictional characters. But at the same time, it makes a comment on our role in society, that as human beings we may not have powers, but we still have a responsibility to help each other and not look away when a fellow human being is in need. People are going to love or hate this one; I know where I landed.

If anyone needs me, I'll be digging out my old “Cold-Snap” costume and weapon from college. Why? No reason....


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